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Martin Gardiner (c. 1833–1899)

by Graeme Cohen

Martin Gardiner (c.1833-1899) was a nineteenth century Irish ̶ Australian surveyor and geometer ̶ mathematician who may be claimed as the most prolific Australian mathematician of the time, more so than any of the professors of mathematics in the four Australian universities up to 1900. Like those professors, except for Horace Lamb (1849-1934, knighted 1931) in the University of Adelaide, it must be allowed that Gardiner’s work had little lasting value for modern mathematics.

Gardiner was born in Dublin, Ireland, around 1833, the son of William (“a gentleman”) and Mary Gardiner. He gained a scholarship to Queen’s College, Galway, soon after the college opened to students in 1850 and excelled in his studies there. After just two years in Galway, Gardiner left, “duly qualified to act as Assistant-Civil-Engineer” (although he signed all his letters and papers as “Martin Gardiner, C.E.”), and travelled to Montreal, Canada, where he honed his skills as a surveyor while working for the Grand Trunk Railway. With a young bride, Bridget Mary Maguire, their son Charles Napoleon and daughter Margaret, Gardiner sailed to Melbourne in 1856 aboard the Royal Charter. The time in Galway and Montreal began a pattern of short stays, at most five years at a time, wherever he lived. The daughter Margaret, at age two years and two months, died soon after the family’s arrival in Melbourne and a son James was born a month later, in April 1857.

Despite completing just two years of formal study in university mathematics, Gardiner built up a network of correspondents with whom he exchanged information on current developments in mathematics and to whom he forwarded the results of his own research. Notable among these correspondents was Richard Townsend FRS (1821-1884) in Dublin and James Cockle FRS (1819-1895, knighted 1869), the first Chief Justice in the colony of Queensland, who was noted also for his mathematical attainments.

In June 1859, Gardiner was elected a member of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria (soon to become the Royal Society of Victoria), with two papers published around then in its Transactions. In 1860, he was appointed Chief Surveyor of the newly founded municipality of Hotham, in Melbourne’s north-west, but in August that year the family moved to Sydney where, as had been arranged, Gardiner obtained employment with the Department of Railways. Five months later, Bridget died of a lung disease and, interestingly, just nine months on Gardiner married Emma Guile, who had been named as a witness on Bridget’s death certificate. They had three children together: Martin in June 1862, Emma in September 1864 and Mary Louisa in October 1867. The marriage ended in violence by Gardiner against Emma, then desertion and, in 1894, divorce.

Work for the Railways was marked by a long-running argument with its Head, John Whitton (1820-1898), and Gardiner found his case represented in the New South Wales Parliament by the leftist, Daniel Dalgleish (1827-1870). The proceedings were extensively documented by local newspapers.

As a member of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales (later, the Royal Society of New South Wales), Gardiner wrote his first papers on his primary accomplishment, a discussion of what became known as the Cramer-Castillon problem. These were published in the Transactions of those Societies and also in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, which admitted Gardiner to membership in 1867, the Cambridge-based Quarterly Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics (to which he contributed two papers), and the Proceedings of the Royal Society, London. Altogether, Gardiner wrote seven papers for the Transactions of the Royal Society of New South Wales (including some in the area of trigonometric surveying) and a further two papers for the Transactions of the Royal Society of Victoria. He had a brief association with St John’s College, in the University of Sydney, and later often referred to himself, unjustifiably, as “late Professor of Mathematics in St. John’s College, Sydney”.

From July 1865 until the end of 1868, Gardiner was City Surveyor for Newcastle, north of Sydney. Prior to that, he had been invited by Joseph Sheridan Moore (1828-­1891), a “teacher, publicist and man of letters,” to conduct “advanced Mathematical Classes” for the University of Sydney, for which Moore was a “licensed Tutor”. On the family’s return to Sydney from Newcastle, Moore proposed that he and Gardiner be joint Principals of City College, which he (Moore) would establish in the Lyons’ Terraces near Hyde Park in Sydney. Gardiner was to be Head of the School of Engineering, Surveying and Architecture. Advertisements, which included prospectuses, references and fees, began to appear almost daily from 12 June, towards the opening of the College on 19 July 1869, but four weeks later Gardiner’s name was being omitted from the advertisements. Then the opening was delayed by a week, and then advertisements resumed with “Edward Hughes … late Resident Engineer on the Punjaub Railways” as Head of what had been Gardiner’s school. No explanation has been found. The College ceased operating after six months.

Perhaps Moore had called in Gardiner’s debts. At the end of 1869, the Borough of Balmain in Sydney announced Gardiner’s appointment as Council Clerk and Surveyor, but the following August saw him declared insolvent and he was obliged to resign from his position.

Six months later, Gardiner unsuccessfully applied for the foundation Chair of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.  His movements during the rest of the 1870s are unclear, but there are newspaper and other references to his presence in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. (In Sydney in 1872 and 1874, he was charged with assaulting his wife, Emma.)

In the late 1870s, in Brisbane, Gardiner began a liaison with Caroline Maria Davies, and they had three children together: Louis in January 1879, Leonorah in August 1880 and Victor Roland in August 1883. For unknown reasons, Gardiner called himself George during that time but there is reliable evidence that this was Martin. He left Caroline soon after Victor’s birth and worked on the famous Cairns Range Railway to Kuranda, in north Queensland, before travelling to Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. As he had always done, wherever he settled he advertised himself as wishing to conduct a “School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, and of Pure and Applied Mathematics”, or similar, never with success.

Emma Gardiner married William Miller in 1893 and died in 1921, aged 78. Caroline Davies married Thomas Williams in 1894 and died in Sydney in 1935, aged 84. Martin Gardiner, aged around 66, died of heart disease on 3 April 1899 at Helena Weir, Mundaring, about 40km east of Perth where he had been employed by W.A. Government Railways as a “computer” in the Railway Construction Branch. He has numerous descendants across the country.

Graeme L. Cohen, “Martin Gardiner: the first Irish-Australian mathematician,” Irish Math. Soc. Bulletin, 85 (Summer 2020), 3­-15. This article includes nothing of George (Martin) Gardiner’s liaison with Caroline Davies. I found out about that only after Louis Gardiner’s grandson John Gardiner contacted me when this article was published online.

Australian Dictionary of Biography references: James Cockle, Daniel Dalgleish, Horace Lamb, Joseph Sheridan Moore, John Whitton.

Numerous newspaper references, funeral notices, and births, deaths or marriages certificates.

See also my historical novel: The Possibly True Story of Martin Gardiner, Black Mountain Books (Halstead Press), Ultimo NSW (2022).

Original Publication

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Citation details

Graeme Cohen, 'Gardiner, Martin (c. 1833–1899)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


c. 1833
Dublin, Ireland


3 April, 1899 (aged ~ 66)
Mundaring, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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